New Covid-19 serological test developed in Italy

Research institutes and diagnostic companies worldwide are racing to produce antibody tests in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Italy, the European Institute of Oncology (IEO) in Milan, together with the University of Pavia, developed a cheap and reliable serological test for broad epidemiological investigations.

The test is based on the SARS-Cov2 antigens to identify the antibodies in the general population – even the mild cases, where the antibody level is low. The Armenise-Harvard Laboratory of Structural Biology played a crucial role. The lab, led by the 2013 Armenise Harvard Foundation awardee Federico Forneris, has been working on protein analysis and production since its foundation. Forneris’ team used available human cell cultures to produce the Covid-19 virus proteins needed to perform serological tests.

«The proteins we produced are ‘pieces’ of the virus that work in the very same way to the ones produced by the infected cells. We used the protein production technology developed over the years and immediately available. We are now able to produce proteins for serological analysis in an amount of about 200,000 tests per week, and we can easily increase this number» Federico Forneris explains.

Using these proteins, the immunologists at IEO developed a serological test able to perform qualitative evaluation of the antibodies in the blood.

35 Italian laboratories join the project “Covid 19 Serology” led by the European Institute of Oncology and the University of Pavia. Such approach offers a cost-effective opportunity for population-level investigations of SARS-Cov2 spreading, ensuring long-term availability and containment of assay costs.

«We hope that our test can be used on a large-scale epidemiological investigation, in order to produce comparable data throughout the country» Federico Forneris concludes.